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The day I met Prabhakaran

By A Ganesh Nadar
May 19, 2009 15:38 IST
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I will never forget April 10, 2002 for as long as I live.

I was part of a group of 350 journalists who attended a press conference called by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief Velupillai Prabhakaran at Killinochi in northern Sri Lanka. This was during the truce between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government brokered by Norway.

Security was tight and the journalists relieved of their mobile phones and isolated from the rest of the world.

On stage were LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham, his wife Adele, Prabhakaran's deputy Colonel Karuna, who later broke away from the LTTE, and the Tigers's smiling political head Tamil Selvam. There were 700 armed LTTE cadres who had their guns pointed at us. Two for every journalist!

And we had been told firmly, "Our supreme leader is all important for us. Please do not stand up suddenly, please do not make sudden movements. If we think the safety of our supreme leader is in danger, we will shoot first. Please do not misunderstand us. Move slowly and gently."

Then Prabhakaran strode in, wearing his trademark safari suit. Well built, very sure of himself. He put his hands on the table and looked around the hall scanning the entire area slowly. There was pin drop silence. We had been told not to get up, but those on stage had risen.

The effect of him leaning over the table and taking in his surroundings was electrifying. The tension in the air was heavy. He then sat down.

Sitting down he didn't look that scary. He was actually smiling at Balasingham. But even at a distance I could see that only his mouth was smiling not his eyes. His eyes were big, lifeless, cold, they were definitely the eyes of a killer, absolutely ruthless.

Anyway an hour into the meeting I forgot how scary he looked and also the rule that you don't make sudden movements.

They had told us that those wanting to ask questions should raise their hand and they would be called. Then you could stand up, identify yourself and ask the question.

I and several others had their hands raised for the entire hour. Nothing happened! Only the BBC, CNN, and The New York Times took turns asking questions.

I lost my head, I jumped up and screamed in Tamil, "Ungalukku Vellaikaran rombu pedichirndal engalaya yen kuptinga, nangallum kadalay thandi, naady thandi vandu erukkirom. (You like only white people, why did you invite us? We too have crossed the ocean, crossed borders to meet you)."

Luckily I screamed in Tamil. I believe that is the only reason the LTTE did not shoot me.

Prabhakaran did not react. Balasingham came to his feet, "Sorry, sorry please don't be upset, please ask your question."

I forgot to introduce myself, I forgot to tell them my organisation's name. I managed to ask in a faltering voice, "There are 240 countries in the world, why Norway?"

Prabhakaran and Balasingham consulted each other. Balasingham replied, "Norway unlike other big powers has no strategic interest in this area and internationally they are known peace makers and thus we chose them."

I am not a supporter of the LTTE and neither am I a supporter of the Tamil cause. But Sinhala chauvinism does anger me.
It saddens me when I see long lines of refugees pouring out of the war zone on television. It saddens me when they say we were starving. It saddens me when they say that both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were firing at them.
It frightens me when they talk about white vans with no numbers that kidnapped their youth.

And the man who was the cause of all this suffering is Prabhakaran. But the news of Prabhakaran's death saddens me the most.

Yes he was brutal, but the Sri Lankan army has proved to be hundred times more brutal.

Yes he was a maniac, but he was a maniac who stood up against Sinhala chauvinism. He never compromised on the Tamil cause. He stood for the right principle, maybe his method and attitude were wrong, but his stand was right and he stood up against a powerful enemy.

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A Ganesh Nadar